As I Lay Dying
Credit: Alissa Whelan

James Franco and True Blood‘s Jim Parrack star in As I Lay Dying, the first-ever screen adaptation of William Faulkner’s 1930 literary classic that will debut at Cannes next month. True to his renaissance reputation, Franco doesn’t just star — as the book’s initial narrator Darl Bundren — he adapted the novel and directed it, as well. Franco had been haunted by the story, about a Mississippi family whose journey to honor their deceased mother’s dying wishes for burial is interrupted by all sorts of calamity, ever since he read it as a teenager. “As I Lay Dying was a book that my father gave me and I can remember spending a weekend reading late into Friday night and Saturday night, when all of my friends were out partying,” Franco said. “It was a difficult book back then. I just tried to understand every line of it. It stayed with me.”

But there’s an understandable reason Hollywood hasn’t successfully adapted this particular Faulker work before. There are 15 different narrators running through its 59 chapters, and it never quite fit neatly into a conventional cinematic narrative. Though he adored the book, Franco understood that he would have to make sacrifices. “You want to capture the tone, but you canʼt work in exactly the same way,” Franco told EW in 2011, as he prepped for the project. “I don’t believe it’ll feel the same if you divide it as rigidly as the book, like titles that say ‘Cash’ and then you’re with Cash. You can slip into the characters’ heads and give them their inner voice for a while, but it has to be more fluid because movies just work differently than books. Movies, in some ways because they deal in images, are more concrete. I want to be loyal to the book — my approach is to always be loyal in a lot a ways — but in order to be loyal I will have to change some things for the movie.”

In addition to Franco and Parrack, who plays Darl’s older brother Cash, the film also features Tim Blake Nelson (Anse), Danny McBride (Vernon), Ahna O’Reilly (Dewey), Logan Marshall-Green (Jewel), and Beth Grant (Addie).

As I Lay Dying will premiere at next month’s Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section.

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